Does the 21st century "church" have a Matthew 7 body?
I have been always felt "alone" in the world even though I'm surrounded by people. Not because I'm not loved, because I am. And not because I don't love, I do! But more because of how I feel. What I think. What I believe. Misunderstood! Perhaps that is a better word? I am not sure really, but I know my heart has always been heavy for humanity in general from a very very early age. I can remember feeling this way before I was 5 years old. Feeling like people need to hate less, love more and stop "being mean".
Fast forward to now. I'm 41 years old and still feel the same, have a lot of the same thoughts. Even as a disciple of Christ I still feel "lost". Not the kind of "lost" that most believers think of. Lost in that I don't feel like I fit in fully with the "believing crowd" because of how I view things. Yet I don't feel I fit in with those that don't believe either, because OF my beliefs. A crazy cycle!
I've always felt the "church" as a whole is lacking something. Granted no one is perfect but I'm not aiming at that point. I'm thinking that it's been over 2000 years and there are time I think we should have something right by now. But the more I read scripture, sadly the more it seems and I feel that the church is falling short of the mark.
First let me clarify what I mean by church. I'm not talking a brick & mortar building. The church IS the body of believers as a whole. The building is merely a place that some choose to gather to corporately express our faith. I'm speaking of the people as a whole.
Secondly, I'm not singling any one person out. I'm thinking of the body as a whole, myself included! I feel there are always lessons to be gained from scripture! [As any believer does!]. This is just simply things on my heart that I feel a disconnect from.
Matthew 7! What an amazing chapter. I'm using The Message for this text. I love this version and puts it in smack clear plain English! I think it is fitting to first read the passage in its entirety. 1 "Don't pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults - unless, of course, you want the same treatment. 2 That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. 3 It's easy to see a smudge on your neighbor's face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. 4 Do you have the nerve to say, 'Let me wash your face for you,' when your own face is distorted by contempt? 5 It's this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor. 6 "Don't be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don't reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you're only being cute and inviting sacrilege. 7 "Don't bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. 8 This isn't a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we're in. 9 If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? 10 If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? 11 As bad as you are, you wouldn't think of such a thing. You're at least decent to your own children. So don't you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better? 12 "Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God's Law and Prophets and this is what you get. 13 "Don't look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don't fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. 14 The way to life - to God! - is vigorous and requires total attention. 15 "Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don't be impressed with charisma; look for character. 16 Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned. 17-21 "Knowing the correct password - saying 'Master, Master,' for instance - isn't going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience - doing what my Father wills. 22 I can see it now - at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, 'Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.' 23 And do you know what I am going to say? 'You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don't impress me one bit. You're out of here.' 24 "These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. 25 Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit - but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock. 26 "But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don't work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. 27 When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards." 28 When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. 29 It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying - quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard.
So, WOW! What a packed passage and directly from Christ. The first several verses have just become more and more powerful to me over the last couple of years. Judging! Yes we all do it. Should we? No! Not according to Christ. And not just among the "family" but to so called "outsiders" as well. I can't tell you how deeply saddened I get every time I hear a believer talk about another believer and judge their heart, essentially saying they are not a "real" Christian. Unacceptable behavior to me from a fellow believer. True, we may not like something someone does, may not like their views, but in no way are we God. In no way has God taken the day off and left us in charge on the throne. God has never been, is not and will never be off the throne. I think the first few verses from Christ himself speak volumes. Simply? Don't do it! Look at yourself, work on perfecting yourself. Work on MYSELF. Work on perfecting MYSELF. Show mercy. Why? Because don't I want mercy? Show love. Why? Because I want love. Why do any of this? Because it's the RIGHT thing to do.
What hit more though lately in this passage: Verse 6"Don't be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don't reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you're only being cute and inviting sacrilege. Here my heart on this as you read it first. When I first read this immediatly I thought of all the "Christian" bookstores, all the cutesy "Christian" t-shirts [that try to mimic various things like Gold's Gym, Pepsi, etc], I thought of cutesy "Christian" bumper stickers. I thought of even church marquees with cutesy or quick religious snippets. I thought of events held at the fellowship buildings like "Fall Festivals", I thought of the sub-culture "Christian" movies, "Christian music", and all those avenues. Hear my heart again, I'm not necessarily bashing those things. I listen to or go to or have some of those things. What I AM saying is that God is impressing on me. That is not IT! A T-shirt never converted anyone. A bumper sticker never really made someone run you off the road to ask to recieve Christ.
If we are truly living Matthew 7, we don't truly NEED those things [except maybe music in general ;)]. We simply need our lives to be the living example. We don't need lots of words, lots of handing out tracks, lots of brow beating, lots of "oh hey we're having a pot luck..." We need to just live, breath, by example. Love like Christ loved. Does your neighbor need food? Go to Publix, buy some food. Does your neighbor need a listening ear, just sit and listen. Does your neighbor seem bitter. Pray harder, pray more, show more love!
The next thing that really jumped out at me were verses 15 and 16:15 "Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don't be impressed with charisma; look for character. 16 Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned.
Again, I ask hear my heart because I may be stepping on some toes inadvertently. Do you want to know honestly what I first thought of when I read these 2 verses? Tel-evangelists and "Christian" leaders like Joyce Myers, Benny Hin, TD Jakes, Dr. Dobson, groups such as The 700 Club, Etc. I'm NOT saying they are bad or having nothing of value to add. In all honesty though I've felt for a very long time when praying that too many people get vested in a "man" or "woman" and let that person speak for them, and thinking that they speak for most other Christians. I remember telling someone once, I can't remember who, when they asked who speaks for me; I answered I speak for myself. I think for myself. I read the scriptures and discern. I don't take anyone's word for it no matter how many degrees they have or how "popular" they are. It seems there are books of books, courses after courses to try to give us the "formula" for how to live an abundant life, how to be a wife, mother, husband, friend, father, how to balance time, how to balance money, how to do this, how do to that. When honestly, let's face it. It's common sense AND though the bible doesn't give an an answer for every little thing, you can pretty much get a good guideline on how to live if you just read the bible! You don't need Dr. so and so's newest book on x,y,z. I think personally Jesus sums up in these 29 verses what "Christian" authors write about in 200 and 300 pages! AND charge you money for! Christ is FREE! FREE! FREE! There is freedom in Christ!
Another thing that struck me is that when it's talking about false teachers, Christ IS talking about fellow Christians who are putting their own fame, glory, etc above him! He's not talking about some fly by not witch doctor like we'd like to think sometimes. And what was impressed upon me and has been for a long time is that the 1000 brick and mortar churches in any town, USA could be and some are about the same. It seems like we have pastors who are like celebrities. You can't hardly approach them because they seem unapproachable. Or when you do you get a quick answer "Oh ask so and so." Yes, I've had that happen. Several times! When flocks and flocks of people have nothing but good things to say about a pastor but I never really hear anything about how great God is, my red flag gets raised. At that point I have to wonder are we following man or God? And further it seems like many of those pastors have at least one-1 sermons a month on "tithing". The service seems to revolve around "throwing money in that basket, Praise Jesus!" While tithing is good, it IS an Old Testament concept. I don't really want to get too much into that right now, that's another blog for another time ;)
But essentially, it's not the "10%" God is after. It's the New Testament thought of:"on the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made" 1Corinthians 16:2AND
2 Corinthians 9:7 You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don't give reluctantly or in response to pressure. "For God loves a person who gives cheerfully."The disciples made a point to let us now how/when/what to give and nothing more or less. Then why is it that the 21st Century "church" is continually putting money above all else? [This is rhetorical, think on it!]It should be noted as well that in early NT times the laying by and storing was not only money but food, clothing, etc. Don't ever feel bad if you're not giving 10% because Pastor so and so said you MUST if you are a true child of God. I'm not saying give one penny. What I am saying is YOU pray about it, YOU let God show you what to give. No pastor knows that, no book knows that, no one but you and God need to know or know that!
I think of other verses that make a good parallel with this such as don't show your good deeds in front of men, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, don't pray like the hypocrites on the street corner, but go into your private prayer closet.
I loved that that this is so poignant in our scriptures. It's not about giving a show for anyone. It's not about saying "hey look at me, I'm praying, I telling you that you have to accept Jesus or you are going to hell."
It's abut simply living the life! LIVING the faith!
Essentially, the Matthew 7 passage ends with build a firm foundation in Christ. Do the things I [Jesus] have said above. Live by example, live by less words, more doing. Don't be flashy, don't be showy. You are not fellow-shipping for entertainment. You don't need a stage, you don't need lights, you don't need a state of the art theater, auditorium, over head projector, a big band, etc, etc. Again, not that those things are wrong. Just come together, worship together as one. It's not one person standing in front dictating what to do, to believe to say, how to act, etc. It's a BODY coming together to learn from each other, to encourage, to recharge and then to go out into the world and LIVE IT!!Live it at your job! Live it at the grocery store! Live it at the gym! Live it on your walk! Live it alone! Live it in a group! Live it at the gas pump! Live it, just live it!